North Korea pledges to revitalise economy after COVID ‘victory’

The secretive state claims ‘remarkable successes’ after upheaval caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

NK Supreme assembly
Pyongyang says it will put the economy back on a “normal track” [Reuters via KCNA]

North Korea has pledged to “re-energise” industrial production and put the economy back on a “normal track” after the disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, according to state media.

The “main task” for North Korea’s Cabinet will be to ensure the country meets its economic indices and 12 main goals “without fail”, the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported on Thursday.

Officials will put the economy on a “normal track and provide the people with a stable and improved life by revitalising the present production”, Premier Kim Tok Hun told a parliamentary session, according to the KCNA.

The cabinet faces the “honourable duty” of ensuring 2023 is a pivotal year of development in recognition of the 75th anniversary of the country’s foundation, Kim Tok Hun said.

He also said North Korea had achieved “remarkable successes in the struggle for economic construction” as well as a “great anti-epidemic victory” that had been recorded in the “world history of health”, the KCNA reported.

The Supreme People’s Assembly, North Korea’s rubber-stamp parliament, on Tuesday began a two-day session to discuss economic and other issues.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, who wields close to absolute power, did not attend the parliamentary session.

North Korea’s economy shrank by an estimated 0.1 percent in 2021, the second straight year of decline, according to South Korea’s central bank, as pandemic restrictions and international sanctions exacerbated the reclusive state’s isolation.

Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein, a non-resident fellow at the Stimson Center and editor of North Korean Economy Watch, said North Korea’s economy faces a difficult road to recovery.

“The state is essentially saying ‘increase output’ but without conditions improving for the economic sectors receiving these orders, they obviously can’t do more with less,” Katzeff Silberstein told Al Jazeera.

“Trade with China and perhaps with Russia – though that is far less certain – will likely increase somewhat, but it may not be enough to change overall economic conditions for the public. How bad things are is very hard to tell, and I’m afraid the information we are getting from inside North Korea is often locally specific and harder to rely on now than perhaps… since the 1990s because of the regime’s tightened border and security controls.”

“North Korea always experiences shortages and difficulties, and while there is no evidence of a large-scale famine, things have gotten considerably more difficult for the average person since the onset of the pandemic,” Katzeff Silberstein added, “and the state’s message is that those difficulties will continue.”

In August, Kim Jong Un declared “victory” against the pandemic and ordered for sanctions to be lifted.

Authorities at the time claimed there had been just 74 COVID deaths in the country, which would be the lowest death toll on earth.

The World Health Organization and health experts have cast doubt on the country’s “unprecedented miracle”, given the absence of independent data, lack of any known vaccination programme and the country’s dilapidated health system.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies